Cinematic Releases: Where Hands Touch (2018) - Reviewed

The holocaust gets the Twilight/YA treatment and the result is exactly what it sounds like.

Since before its premiere Amma Asante's Where Hands Touch raised controversy through, sight unseen, claims that it romanticized Nazis. The movie tries to rescue from obscurity the history of black Germans who were fathered by French soldiers stationed in the Rhine Valley after World War I, called both "Rhineland bastards" and Hitler's problem.

The year is 1944 and Leyna (Amandla Stenberg) is just one of those children. As Hitler's persecution policies reach full steam and country people's views start shifting negatively, Leyna's mother (Abbie Cornish) decides to move with her two children to Berlin, where she thinks no one will give her daughter a second thought. Once in the city Leyna is expelled from school and sent to work with her mother at a factory, while her small brother is forced to join Hitler Youth.

As she is confronted to contempt and humiliation, Leyna still thinks of herself as a proud German and different from the Jews that are being rounded up and exiled from the city.
Her meeting with Lutz (George MacKay), son of a Nazi, and firm Hitler follower, immediately turns into a soap opera star-crossed romance. This is Asante's mistake.

Between scenes of teenage first love we are also offered images of Jews being executed on the streets and Gestapo officials demanding Leyna's documents and setting them on fire. It is clear that Asante is drawing obvious parallels with Hitler's Germany and Trump's America, where the color of one's skin is increasingly becoming a huge source of concern; where passports are being denied to American born Latinos and their citizenship's are stripped as they are deported. Where children are separated by their parents and being held in cages.

The director's intentions are genuine and definitely in the right place, the problem, as it so often does, lies in the execution. In the improbable mix of tones, through the intermingling of romance and bitter historical facts, neither of them works, as they coalesce into a disturbing concoction that doesn't go down easily.

The badly written dialog, spoken in English with overly exaggerated German accents, a production design that is way too bright and clean in its portrayal of a WWII work camp, plus shoddy CGI shots of 1940s Germany, add up to an unshakable made for TV feel, which detracts any sense of gravitas that might have been achieved.

With a different, less tone deaf, approach, the movie could have served, as the historical cautionary tale that it was envisioned as, because in the current political climate, the intention was for Leyna to represent all of us, regardless of skin color, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

The message is definitely relevant, though the attempt is flawed. In the times ahead, we could do much worse than rereading the writings of James Baldwin (quoted in the opening of the film) and committing Martin Niemöller's "First they came…" poem, to memory.

--Manuel Ríos Sarabia